BlogRoll business Freelance test consultant

So you want to be a software test consultant?

Today, I’ m handing out some pointers that may or may not help you on your path to becoming a software test consultant. Some of these I’ve gained through bitter experience, others are more hindsight on things I ought to have done.
So, without  further ado, here are my tips.

1) Dreams are not goals

Its easy to have a dream about setting up a test consultancy, and actually, it’s really easy to setup a company, print some business cards and your dream is realised!  But unless you have short and long term goals, your business won’t go far. I set quarterly and yearly goals for myself and my business.

2) What does success mean to you?

I think this is essential to understand. What is driving you to run your own business? Money, freedom of choice in your work, flexibility? Knowing what will make you happy when you achieve your goals and dreams is essential to having a successful business. For me, my initial goal was to work for myself and not have to answer to anyone! It has changed over the years to include flexibility to spend time with my younger children. At times, this has meant my business has not been highly profitable, but it has always been successful.

3) Know your market and your products.

Who are you targeting your testing at? Any particular sector? Any particular size of company?  Ask yourself what products/packages would they be interested in? Ask your market what products/services they would be interested in? All this ought to be in your business plan. In my view a business plan is the equivalent of your testing strategy and approach, and its a very personal document. It helps you through knowing your market and your products, your rates etc.

4) How much should I charge?

There is no easy answer to this, which is why spending hours googling websites like mine is not going to help you. The general advise is that you should charge enough to cover your expenses and how much you need to live on. So, if you estimate on working 40 weeks of the year, and you need a salary of $100,000 yr to live on, you have company expenses of $20,000 /yr  then you will need an hourly rate of $75.  This may not be the final rate you charge, but you know its your minimum rate. That’s helpful to know if a client is trying to offer a lower rate.

I went for a tender recently and lost out. I asked why and they mentioned that my rate was to high. I was dissapointed naturally, but I knew that I had offered the right rate for me and I would not have lowered my rate just to get this piece of work, the risks were too high.

There’s a whole other heap of things that contribute to your daily rate, such as knowing who your market is, and what they will take. Bear in mind rates are very fluid, and in times like recessions they often move down very quickly.

Personally, I think you just have to go out there and try out a few numbers with potential clients. You will soon learn what’s acceptable and what’s not.  So, get off your butt, find a customer and charge a rate. If you don’t get the work, ask them why? Was the rate too high?

No-one said this was going to be easy!

5) Marketing Yourself

I have to mention something about marketing etc, because a) its so important, and b) it can be very time consuming. What are the best methods to promote yourself? Like any good tester, I’m going to say it depends!  There many ways to promote yourself on-line and off-line. I have gotten work from both online and through knowing people. Each country differs in what works best. For example, in Australia, a lot of my work came through the internet, so having a good online presence was essential. In Ireland though, it’s more who you know and going out and meeting people is more important.

Be very careful how much time your spending on the internet twittering, blogging etc, your time may be better spent meeting people or speaking to people on the phone. This is a big trap and one I constantly fall into!

Writing articles and speaking at presentations are other ways of promoting yourself and its a good way to start seeing yourself as a provider and not a consumer.

6) The baby years.

Realise that though you may plan to work 40 hours a week, you may end up working less than that, especially in the first couple of years. So what do you do?  Either you need a little nest egg which you can rely on for two years, or else you are going to have to supplement your business through short term contract work.

In fact, I think its a good way to transition from permanent to running your own business as it helps you learn about other consultancy type skills such as understanding the tax system, raising invoices, working by the hour, dealing with clients and learning market rates. These are all skills which you may not have come across in your permanent role and will be helpful in running your own business. At the same time, you are still assured of an income.

7) Always be on the look out for new clients.

This is a real challenge when it comes to working for yourself and I think is one of the biggest challenges to running your own business. Marketing and selling your work to new clients is essential if you want to keep the work coming in and takes an enormous amount of effort. But how do you fit this in when working for a client five days a week?

I don’t have any easy answers to this and I still struggle with balancing my sales activities with my paid work. Paid work has to come first, potentially leaving only evenings and weekends for marketing and sales type activities.

If you value you family life, you can try working 4 day weeks and leaving one day (or 1/2 day)  for admin activities.

Another idea I had, but I haven’t tried is to outsource your marketing and sales to another freelancer. I don’t know if this approach works, but sometimes I’ve been sorely tempted to try something like this out!

8 Use your network.

Everyone knows that in order to find clients you have to network. I remember being a bit overwhelmed at the thought of having to find this ‘network’ of people to source work from. How in the hell to I meet these ‘people’ who had work?

I realised after a while, that I didn’t have to look anywhere as I already had a network! My network was my family, friends and people I had worked previously for. So, when I started looking for work, I turned to these people first.  Let them know you have started working for yourself and could they pass the word that you are available? It doesn’t matter if they are non IT people, you just never know where your next piece of work is going to come from. Also, ask them if they know of someone who may be able to help or give advice? (People love giving advice!). The key is to start talking to people you know, and people who your network knows.

A great place to start is with companies you’ve worked with. These people know you, and what you can do. You also have the advantage of knowing their systems etc. Don’t be afraid to go back and ask for any work they may have. If you can make it part time even better as that way you can focus on building your business. One of my first jobs came this way.

9) Work smart

I will let you in on a little secret. I have a business mentor. I suggest you go out and find one yourself. A mentor is an excellent way of guiding you through some of the pitfalls in starting up your own business and can help you with the all important and essential business plan.  I got my business mentor through an enterprise network, look around your local area and see if there is something equivalent.

Footnote. I am not offering any business mentoring, so please don’t ask.

and finally

10) Its your path.

It’s good to get advice and ask for help. However, no-one is going to give you a template or process for success. You are going to have to make it up as it goes along. That’s half the fun of running a business. I liken it to raising kids. It doesn’t matter how many self help books you read on how to raise your children, in the end, they are only guidelines. You are the one who is going to make to decision on what to do. Are you prepared for that?  If you want it all mapped out for you, stick to your permanent job.

That’s about it!

I’ve listed some related articles I’ve written on the topic below:

Presentation: It includes some stats on where I get work etc

Article I wrote for the STC On being a successful consultant

I could go on, but I think I’ve addressed the main points. If you have any more questions on this  topic, feel free to ask in the comments below. If you think you’d be interested in this topic  at a conference let me know that too!

Please don’t post asking for work, that you will have to find on your own!

Good luck on your venture.

By Anne-Marie Charrett

Anne-Marie Charrett is an internationally recognized expert in software testing and quality engineering.
She keynotes at international conferences on the topic of Quality, Coaching, and Leadership.
Ex-Head of Engineering at Tyro Payments where she transitioned testers to a quality coaching model
Consultant on Quality Engineering, developer of the quality operating model. Invented and rolled out a consulting model for quality engineering.
Consulting across FinTech, Media, Government, Insurance, Banking & Telco Sectors
Creator and Lecturer of Enterprise Software Testing course at UTS Australia. Co-developed a coaching model aiming to transfer testing skill and know-how using the Socratic method.
B.Eng (Hons) Electronic Engineering (I really am a quality engineer!)
Based in Sydney, Australia works – internationally.

11 replies on “So you want to be a software test consultant?”

Fantastic post. I can see some of the points reinforcing Weinberg’s “Secret’s to Consulting” which is reassuring to me that you see it in a similar way.
In point 6 you state “…you are going to have to supplement your business through short term contract work.”
Isn’t most of what you’re doing short term contract work? I’m not sure I understand.
Points 7 and 8 are the hardest for me to get to grips with. Making the jump from permanent employment to self-employed is always a risk but when having a “net”-work in place this then works as your safety-“net”. But if you don’t have the contacts and/or recommendations of people you worked with I see the first step as a big obstacle.

I’m not sure how many people would be interested at a conference level as this topic targets a very specific kind of people which is a group which I believe is not very big, even though they’d be highly interested. Is this a market niche – offering a service to these people helping establish them as consultants? There could be some money in it. After all it’s a life changing decision and help with the answer to go for it or not is similar to the ship/no ship decision testers help PMs with. In other words it’s valuable.
Let me know what you think 🙂

Hi Thomas,I call contract work any work you get through an agency. I call the other type of work consulting. I don’t know why, because technically, you’re correct, they are both on a contractual basis. Working through an agency is easier as they are in effect your marketing and sales arms, so you focus on the actual testing work.

You would be surprised at the number of people who ask me for advice on starting a consultancy. Its probably the question I get asked the most. I’m not sure how these queries translate into real people wanting to setup a consultancy, but certainly the desire is there. Isuspect the biggest problem would be letting others know your goal, I suspect some people would not want colleagues/bosses to know thats their plan..

It could be a service, but I wouldn’t make that my entire focus, I suspect its not sustainable moneywise.

I like the differentation between consulting and contracting, makes perfect sense. I’m just mentally dividing the people I know into contractors and consultants and can see where the difference is. It also makes it clear that I’m more interested in consultating rather than contracting. This one is for keeps, thanks!
As for your other comments, I’m not particularly surprised that you get a lot of enquiries – people look at who’s successful in what they are doing and want to know what makes it so. Agree with the desire for secrecy.

Thanks for your comments, that was helpful.

I think the point about “short term contract work” is important. However, these contracts can be a distraction. The problem is that although genuine consultancy may pay off in the long run these contracts will almost certainly bring in far more money in the short, or even medium term.
That’s a bit ironic, given that the level of expertise required, and the level at which one is working, is likely to be much lower. So these contracts do seem an easy option.

I’m wary about taking on these contracts since my last experience in one, when I spent several months in a dreadful environment in which my work as a test manager was only tangentially connected to testing. It was all about managing the process, churning out the reports and plans, and attending endless meetings.

That was extremely well paid, but it reinforced my determination to do real consultancy. I want to help people do it better. I don’t want to come in and just do it badly, even if it’s well paid.

Something that has also put me off the short-term contract route is the need to go through agents. I’ve yet to deal with one who really understands what I want to do, and often they are lamentably ignorant about testing and IT. They work their way down a ticklist, and they lack the knowledge and experience to deviate from that.

That makes networking and direct contacts hugely important. You’re very unlikely to get an interesting consultancy contract handed to you on a plate by an agent.

Hi James, you mirror my experience to a T!
However, unless you have some other income (perhaps a partner etc) its often hard to wait out for those consultancy jobs. As I have found out, just because you are available and have a good reputation and network well, doesn’t mean customers want you when you are available.
So you have to store up some cash. Using contracting to start out and test the waters and save some cash is I think a solid approach. When you’ve been around the block a few times, perhaps using an agency is less necessary.

I think what a consultant might want to have on his/her side is a strong updated certification. For instance, with the launch of CMST in the market, there is a defined career path available for IT professionals as they can first get certified as a CSTE (Practitioner level) and can then upgrade to CMST (Manager level) after gaining about 8 years of exp in Testing –

I agree. I’ve never been asked for a certification either. Most clients want to know if I have business domain experience, experience with their particular technology stack/methodology, or they have a particular testing pain they need help with (like performance testing).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *